I used Google devices exclusively for years. At the time, I loved my Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, the first two generations of the Pixel (XL versions), the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets, and even the Pixelbook. But after a few weeks with the Pixel 3 XL, I had to face a truth that I'd been trying to deny: Google hardware makes too many compromises. I went through at least three of each Pixel, all replaced on warranty for one reason or another. And the 3 XL wasn't faring any better in the software department, with the music app constantly being pushed out of memory and the camera failing to save many of the pictures and videos that I took. My fanboy emotions for Google were fading, and I needed to move on. In the end, Samsung was where I ended up.
I've covered my switch to Samsung in detail before, so I'll just give you the abridged version here. In March 2019, I returned my Pixel 3 XL and preordered the Galaxy S10+. It had excellent hardware, and One UI was a far cry from the much-maligned TouchWiz of old. Two years, three phones, several sets of earbuds, and a watch later, I'm fully invested in Samsung's ecosystem. After spending this much time with Samsung's devices, do I have any regrets? And what do I miss — if anything — from the Google experience?
Having used Pixels for so long, I was worried about the camera experience when I got my Galaxy S10+. While Samsung's hardware was undoubtedly better, Google's image processing was unrivaled at the time. I'll be honest and say that I did miss the general consistency of photos and brilliant portrait mode for a while. Still, the flexibility offered by the S10+ was enough for me to live without those things, and as Samsung has honed its photo processing over the last few years, I'm more than happy with it now.
A moon shot taken in extremely windy conditions on an S21 Ultra
The S21 Ultra is a prime example of why I love using Samsung phones. Having two zoom lenses enables the phone to take good quality photos from 3x all the way up to 30x. It lets you carry on up to 100x, but past 30x the quality starts to suffer. Even so, it's one of the best zoom camera phones around. The refined 108MP camera captures more light than before and focuses better thanks to the return of laser autofocus, fixing some of the issues that plagued the S20 Ultra. As usual, though, my favorite camera is the ultrawide.
Macro mode on the S21 Ultra
I love taking pictures with an ultrawide. It opens up new possibilities when capturing a scene, and I feel more motivated to try new things and get creative with how I frame a shot. The S21 Ultra has dual-pixel autofocus on all of its rear cameras, including the ultrawide lens. This means it can take macro shots, and the results really are incredible. When it comes to overall camera performance, a Pixel may still be more consistent in certain conditions, but the gap is so small these days that the added versatility of the S21 Ultra more than makes up for it.
Samsung's displays are excellent, and they continue to get better every year. The Pixel 3 XL had a better screen than the troubled 2 XL, but it still didn't compare to the S10+ when I got it. The resolution may have been the same, but you don't realize how important brightness is until you see what Samsung has to offer. Even during England's one day of sunshine each year, I can still see my screen's content vividly. The S20 and S21 Ultras only got better, especially with the latter adding adaptive 120Hz at 1440p. Once you use a display like this, it's hard to go back. When I think that the Pixel 5, Google's current "flagship," has a comparatively small display (there's no XL version) that's stuck on 90Hz at 1080p, it's clear I've made the right move.
One thing I do miss from Pixel hardware is the quirky design choices. The colored power buttons and two-tone finishes always looked wonderful. I do love my silver S21 Ultra, but I long for the look and feel of the panda Pixel 2 XL. Then again, even Google has moved on from that design, so perhaps I'm not missing much anymore.
Left to right: Good Lock's Task Changer, Clockface, and Theme Park.
Besides the exceptional hardware, Samsung's software is another reason I've continued to buy these phones. One UI has been a huge improvement over TouchWiz. It's packed with useful features, well designed, and generally a joy to use, with Good Lock letting you do things that aren't usually possible without rooting your device.
That positive experience was a relief. The reason I got a Nexus 6 was because of Samsung's horrible TouchWiz on my Galaxy S4. What stock Android lacked in features it made up for with reliability and fast updates. This is no longer the case thanks to One UI — it's as smooth as stock Android, security updates are often released before Pixels get them, and major Android upgrades are only a few months behind. And it's always well worth that wait, too.
Android 11 added handy new features to Pixel devices, like Bubbles, device audio with screen recording, and pinning apps to the share menu. The thing is, One UI 2.5 already had all of that and more. Even features that were meant to be in Android 11 but were dropped, like scrolling screenshots, have been a mainstay of One UI since the very beginning. As we learn more about Android 12, all I can think is how great Samsung will make it with One UI 4.0.
I've used a few Wear OS watches, including the first two generations of the Moto 360 and the Huawei Watch 2. Towards the end of 2019, I decided to try Tizen and bought the Galaxy Watch Active2. There are some things I miss from Wear OS, but overall I'm happy with it.
I enjoy my Active2 for many of the same reasons as my S21 Ultra. The watch may be a year and a half old but the hardware still competes with newer Wear OS watches. Its Exynos 9110 processor and 1.5GB of RAM keep everything fast and smooth, and the battery still lasts two and a half days. This watch has been used heavily every day since launch, and thanks to updates, the battery lasts longer now than when I got it. A recent update activated the blood pressure and ECG sensors, making it even better for fitness tracking.
The main thing I miss from Google's wearable platform is the app ecosystem. There are a lot of apps that I frequently use that aren't available on Tizen, like Telegram, Google Keep, and the big one: Google Assistant — Bixby just doesn't come close. With Telegram, I can reply to messages and notifications from my watch, but there isn't a native app that lets me start a new conversation or send media. The watch faces made by Samsung are good, but the third-party selection on the Galaxy Store is underwhelming. The rumors that Samsung might be switching to Wear OS do concern me when it comes to stability and smoothness, but if Samsung is able to port current features over to its Wear OS watches and continues to produce compelling high-end hardware, I'll be certain to give it a go.
Since 2019 I've owned the Galaxy Buds, Buds+, and Buds Pro. The sound quality has always been good, but the Buds Pro blow me away. While I can't compare them to their rivals, I can see from reviews that I'm not the only one who has been impressed by them, with David saying they're as close as you can get to an AirPods Pro for Android, and giving them a 9/10. As good as they are, I tend to use my Buds+ more frequently.
What the Buds+ lack in ANC they make up for in comfort, usability, and battery life. I've had these in my ears for 15 hours straight before, and I still had over 30% battery left. They're also more comfortable over long periods, with the Buds Pro giving me a strong plugged-up feeling. The gestures have been more functional on the Buds+ and let you double-tap the top edge to change the volume, although this has thankfully just been added to the Buds Pro in a recent software update.
Over the years, I've considered trying other wireless earbuds. Pixel Buds have tighter integration with the Google Assistant and look nicer, in my opinion. In the end, several factors have kept me with Samsung's buds. Getting the new ones for free every year with my phone upgrade is a big one, naturally, but I also feel they make fewer compromises. The battery life is far better, they tend to have fewer bugs, and most people agree that they're more comfortable. All things considered, Samsung's audio accessories have gone from good to great in recent years.
Spending two years in Samsung's bubble has certainly been interesting. While I miss some of the things Google hardware offers, I'm more than happy to have made the switch. Using a flagship Galaxy device in 2021 is a vastly superior experience than it was back in 2014. The hardware is cutting edge and well put together and the software experience has been refined and optimized — if you haven't used a Samsung phone since the TouchWiz days, newer models will be unrecognizable to you in all the best ways. There have always been plenty of features, but the slow, bloated feeling is gone. If you find yourself debating whether or not to give Samsung a try, I say go for it. I certainly don't regret it.